We Urge a NO Vote on SB 397

RFID dongleHeaded to the California Assembly Appropriations Committee today is SB 397 (Hueso), new legislation that would allow the DMV to create a new class of drivers license. This so-called “enhanced” license uses an Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip – the kind that factories and shippers use to track products. In this case, the person is the product, and the chip, embedded in an identity document we all carry every day, is our tracker.

[Update: on 8/21 SB 397 was put in the Appropriation Committee’s ‘suspense file,’ which is a holding pen for bills that present a fiscal impact above a $50,000 threshold. A vote of the committee will bring it back before the committee. We’ll keep you posted. You can track the bill’s history.]

How it works: you obtain the (for now) optional chip-embedded license and belly up to a state government counter or a federal border crossing. A scanner reads the unique identifier number in your license and associates you with your state-issued license record. ‘Belly up’ understates it: simply pass by within 150 feet of the scanner and you’re ID’d.

How it could work: you walk into a coffee shop or supermarket and somebody with a reader surreptitiously nets your credential. (According to a Mother Jones post about SB 397, that RFID scanner costs less than $40. We prefer the laptop dongle, above.) What happens next is – for now – left to the imagination:

  • The identity thief matches your credential with a list of personal descriptors sprung from DMV, including name, address and birthdate – precisely the kind of data that identity thieves use to socially-engineer (i.e., ‘buffalo’) banks and credit card companies by phone;
  • Local governments roll out scanners backed by a fat federal grant (much like license-plate readers today – a favored tool in Beverly Hills, by the way) which allows local law enforcement to track your movements through public places, on sidewalks, and at city gateways;
  • When the federal government mandates that every state use RFID licenses, it begins to track people in real time with scanners embedded in mailboxes, lampposts, and every other public fixture wired into the ‘internet of things.’

With RFID–enabled licenses, all of our bodily movements, and our positions that were heretofore completely anonymous, are open to scrutiny. And there’s one thing that’s for sure: this is not for our convenience. Ask yourself how much confidence you have in the DMV or the State of California to keep the underlying licensing information confidential and you should find your position on this bill too.

The libertarian Cato Institute says Do not walk – run from SB 397. It view the legislation as the camel’s nose under the tent of individual privacy. The ACLU says SB 397 “lacks the basic safeguards necessary to protect our privacy and security” and offers a tool to contact your representatives. This proposed law lacks the basic safeguards necessary to protect our privacy, so we’re counting on our representatives to vote NO on SB 397.

Contact the Chair of Appropriations, Mike Gatto, or the Vice Chair Diane Harkey, and your member of the Assembly to let them know how you feel. ASAP.